The stories we tell ourselves become our reality! If you had heard this statement 20 years ago, you would not be faulted for dismissing it as a new-age mumbo jumbo. You would have been in good company, and I would have been, too :)
Regardless of who we are, meaning male or female, cultured or uncultured, holder of multiple degrees, or a high school dropout, you and I tell stories to ourselves and others all day long. So what, right? Where is the harm in that? Surprisingly, the story we tell matters not only to our physiological health but to our emotional well-being as well.
Today, Narrative and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy use story-telling as a healing modality. I can attest to this as I have not only been studiously preoccupied with emotional well-being for decades but have also dealt with trauma.
2018 marked my 50th birth year, one of the most emotionally challenging years both as a married couple and individually, as Russill and I discovered and started dealing with our childhood traumas.
To make things further interesting, both of us were diagnosed with not just PTSD but with CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder).
As I have written before, we lovely humans are hard-wired to focus on the negative more than the positive, a.k.a. Negativity bias. And it happens to the best of us.
Take a moment to recount your day thus far; how many times in the last 24 hours did your brain paint a scenario where you experienced mild to moderate discomfort about your future? Now compare it to how often you felt profound gratitude for a bright future?
Whether or not you have been affected by trauma, many of us perceive the world as a scary place. This is because we have been trained to be on guard, or else real or imagined tigers are waiting to devour us. Although, to be fair, our training mainly stems from well-meaning people; parents, teachers, and the like.
However, fear begets fear, and voila, negativity bias's twin confirmation bias steps in! Slowly but surely, our fears are validated, we become strong in our convictions of how correct our fears are, and out steps our Joie de vivre (joy of life).
In case you need to jog your memory, here are a couple of quick definitions:
Negativity bias: Humans use positive & negative information to make sense of their world. However, we have abundant observational evidence that adults display a negativity bias (1), or the propensity to attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive.
Confirmation bias: Is the way in which we process information, facts, data, etc., by looking for and interpreting them to fit our existing beliefs (2).
These biases are a fundamental issue when manifesting our Soul's desire. Because our clever minds start to use reasons to justify our beliefs, habits, and behaviors rather than changing them to obtain the desired outcomes.
Humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow (one of the most cited psychologists of the last century) and Carl Rogers (a founding father of psychotherapy research) viewed Joie de vivre,(3) or Joy of life, as the by-product of self-actualization.
And one of Maslow's famous quotes is, "It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half."
Returning to Joie de vivre, we are not discussing chasing happiness here. On the contrary, it involves our entire self, our whole being. It is taking delight in being just alive!
When I share this aspect in-depth with my students, I caution them that Joie de vivre is not pollyannaism.
Being positive sucks when our emotional life is imbalanced. Repeating affirmations and bypassing proactively addressing emotional issues will NOT lead to manifesting your heartfelt desires. Instead, it can lead to excessive self-absorption, overthinking, and in-action, a classic case of analysis paralysis. I trust you would agree that this is not the path to fulfilling our souls.
To bring this point home to you, one of my first trauma therapists, upon learning that I was a big proponent of affirmations, tried to use affirmations to fix my situation without fully comprehending my emotional condition. I knew then and there that I needed to look for a new therapist.
After searching high and low, the Universe provided a different therapist who was able to help me effectively address my trauma and integrate my professional understanding of whole-person health. In this instance, the new therapist successfully suggested affirmations for my therapeutic process.
Going back to the exercise mentioned above that we previewed, most if not all of the discomfort we feel about our future is because none of us can be certain about our future. To a great extent, it is a big unknown.
A major con of the modern lifestyle is our unconscious lack of resilience. A lack of hardiness. We have so many things that we can control at the tip of our fingertips; for example, the temperature of our homes, workspace, automobiles, etc., we have become accustomed to certain outcomes.
Just as we control our indoor temperature, we also try to control our emotions. We abuse food, drink, drugs, and even healing tools such as meditation to understate or deny our feelings.
A while ago, I heard an insightful Ted talk where the speaker spoke eloquently about dealing with anger. She compared our angry adult self to a 4-year-old. She said when we are mad, we cannot let the kid take the wheel, nor can we stuff the kid in the trunk!
Well-being is about the ability to entertain the whole spectrum of human emotions (happy, sad, joy, fear, and so on) effectively and purposefully without being lost in the highs and lows of life. This is true spiritual equanimity. A stark contrast to indifference or wanting to run away from the world.
Let us not sugarcoat it. Healthily dealing with our emotions takes skill, practice, and the need to take a hard look at our habits/behaviors. And most importantly, the willingness to flourish.
This is how we build resilience 1.0, and then we can look forward to building resilience 2.0 that takes us to the level of thriving despite all the bad hands we have been dealt with and in the face of an uncertain life.
The good news is emotional thriving is a learned skill and a huge part of spiritual fulfillment.
The secret ingredient is choice, or rather the willingness to choose the actions needed to thrive.
The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita (the most revered Hindu scripture) begins wonderfully at the moment of despair. The Gita teaches us that discovering how our Soul can choose - is its way out of disempowerment and despair. When the Soul begins to make wise choices, it can regain its rightful place as the director of our consciousness. This path uses Viveka (spiritual discernment) to navigate.
I trust that you have found this blog helpful. To learn how my Wellness Program can help you click here
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